Redrafting your life writing – key elements

Once you have done a lot of writing and drawn out a wealth of material, the next stage is to think about how to form it into a story. While it’s in its raw form, what you have is a repository of memories particular to you. If you want to create something that others will enjoy reading, these are the elements you need: 1. Structure, pacing and tension – where will these come from? How will you start your story? Not with explanation, which is boring, but with some kind of action. What is the … [Read more...]

The DPR of writing – Perseverance

Over my 20+ years of teaching creative writing, I’ve seen a lot of talented writers. There are usually a couple in every class, students whose writing I look forward to reading, and who actively welcome workshopping and feedback. And yet I have also learned that even the most talented may not have the perseverance to keep writing, no matter what. What does no matter what mean? Well, to me it means to keep writing despite rejections, obviously. When you are sending out stories and poems and … [Read more...]

Secrets of micro-revision #3: Testing your sentences

Once we get our words on the page, and rework them over and over, it’s the small things that escape our notice when we come to micro-revision. While we can search diligently for clichés and other language errors that trip us up, the one thing I find writers forget about is their actual sentences, and whether they’re working clearly as building blocks to pace, tone, style and voice. Some of the things that happen when we don’t pay attention to sentences are: Ambiguities and confusion, … [Read more...]

Secrets of micro-revision: #2 Rub out repetitions

There’s repetition, and then there’s repetition.  Good repetition adds rhythm to your writing – it can provide emphasis, and a sense of completion in an image or emotion. An example of this (in a crime novel) is: I stared down at the body by the fireplace – the blood on the bricks, the blood soaking into the Persian rug and the blood dripping from the sooty poker. We get the image – blood everywhere! Repetition of an image can also be used successfully in both short stories and novels. … [Read more...]

Secrets of micro-revision: #1 Crushing your cliches

There are several different stages of revision, from big structural down to micro copyediting. Each comes with its own challenges, but sometimes when you get to copyediting and final polishing, it can be hard to step back and give each and every word a fresh “going over”. One strategy is to scan the manuscript, looking for certain elements and marking each time you come to one that jars. We all have “things” we do in our writing, like tics. We are so used to them that we just can’t see them – … [Read more...]

How to critique Chapter One

We’re told over and over how important our first chapter is. It’s the one you’re asked for by agents and editors, it’s the one people sneak a peek at in the bookshop, it’s the one you’ll put on your website as an extract to get readers to buy it … That’s a lot of pressure on one small chapter! But the bottom line is this is the reality today. We can’t afford first chapters that spend all their time describing characters or setting, or are nothing but setup for the story that starts around … [Read more...]

How to critique a picture book text

The first thing to work out is what kind of picture book it is. Yes, there are several categories. Board books, concept books, simple stories for 2-3 year olds, slightly more complex stories for 4-6 year olds, picture books for older children. Board books are usually written by the illustrator (very few words) so anyone attempting these needs to illustrate as well or they are almost impossible to sell. Concept books (e.g. alphabet and numbers books) need to be original and have something that … [Read more...]

Writing is easy

Writing is easy. And writing is hard, really hard. I sound like I’m contradicting myself, but it’s true. Some parts of writing are easy for some people, and some parts are hard. I love first drafts, and find them easy. I type fast, and I think through the story and characters when I’m not actually typing, so that when I sit down at the keyboard, the words come fast and usually fairly easily. Rewriting is hard for me. This is when I lose faith in my words, wondering how, if they came so … [Read more...]